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She often found herself seeing through ill-advised impulses much the same way she’d compulsively finish a page-turning novel in a single sitting—just to get to the end—just to see what would happen. She was an addicted reader partly because she longed for an omniscient narrator in her own messy and confused life. In life she wanted to know the secret impetus behind impulse; to understand people as she did fictional characters—better than they did themselves; to uncover unexpected wells of humanity in the unlovable and to feel empathy for the unsympathetic. It seldom worked out that way.
Dream: teaching at Penland for the summer. My studio/living space was full of students with their necessary mess, open 24 hours a day, earnest work during the day and drinking at night—the usual suspect array of artistic expression on the tables, the floors and the walls. Suddenly I noticed that this space was, in fact, my
. My house. They had moved my house and I was in it but it wasn’t where it was supposed to be. There were, not surprisingly, long conversations about this. I was magnificent in my outrage. The logic of dreams leaves me befuddled.
I am sometimes brought up short by the forgotten gulf between us—fooled by our common language into thinking we share a commonality of assumption. You use a word like ‘intimate’ to describe a newly published essay of mine and I realize once again that I am foreign to you. I do see what you meant, after reconsidering it, though I suspect it was the Speckled Hen that began to make it all clear. And by the time we’d finished two bottles of red and moved on to respective alterations of consciousness I felt I understood you perfectly. Funny, that.
High tea at the Savoy requires proper attire. It requires polite and poised conversation in spite of your intent eyes. The silver tongs must be held carefully in a trembling hand as I drop a lump of sugar into my cup. Concentration and downcast eyes are called for as I spread the clotted cream and jam on the warm scone, remembering your mouth on my back (one hand twined round my braid, the other holding my hip—your hands said not to move and so I shivered endlessly beneath slow deliberate kisses). High tea at the Savoy is shockingly erotic.
Saturday, 7:00AM: I wake and need to start the day before you do and so I pull on jeans, a sweater and warm socks to prepare myself for the shock of your cold rooms. Once I get the fire on and make that first cup of tea I can relax. Does anyone else in London go without central heating these days? I like sitting in front of the fire, though, and settle in with my trusty laptop. It’s so quiet. In New York everyone I know will be asleep but I find a friend from Oregon still up and connected.
The last day: always too difficult for both of us. Our different responses could be trouble, I know. I’m glad you forgive me my way of dealing with it, lucky that you trust I’ll miss you in spite of my calm and practical acceptance. You go to sleep in a cloud of gloom the night before and I… well, I just go to sleep like I always do. You’re given to dwelling in the sadness of our separation while I run to meet it and get it over with. I love you for knowing I love you in these moments.
I’m not sure where the turbulence began—they don’t seem to have that cute little sky-map that tells you where you are and how fast you’re going anymore. We must have been an hour and half from New York when it really got going. It wasn’t too bad at first—a few bumps and an announcement of a storm front. Then it got serious. Gasps and shocked cries and barfing all over the plane, a few oxygen masks tumbled from the ceiling, the flight attendants looked unhappy. Now I know the stories about spontaneous heartfelt applause upon landing are true.
I don’t let myself get angry anymore. (Actually, I don’t think it has anything to do with letting myself.) I wouldn’t have felt able to make this claim three years ago, even though it has been longer than that since I last really felt angry. I’ve realized over time that I might say, 'I was so pissed off' over this or that, but the truth is it’s just surface—momentary annoyance signifying little. The old deep rage, the furious sick-making anger now seems completely alien to me. I haven’t got the time or inclination for it. How did this happen?
How odd to get email from her about last month’s batch. She wrote, ‘Isn't it strange how I can peek in on your world—your mindset through this window of a website?’ It is, actually. I forget that people I know can drop by. That they can see these things I write. Not that any of this is anything to write home about. But that’s it, though, isn’t it? I’m writing for strangers, not for friends, family or home. I wonder if this will make me more careful or if I’ll use it to say things I wouldn’t say directly.
I’m supposed to go to Kansas City tomorrow to close a deal. Are they insane? How many times have I said I don’t do business development, I don’t do sales, I’m not that person? I tell you there is no point in demonstrating competence because they will just ask you to more and more until your job becomes unrecognizable and you find yourself in Kansas City. These are tough times and everyone must play a fluid role, they intone. Your flexibility makes you very valuable to the company, they insist. Whatever. I hear KC is a wild sort of town.
She’s in my bed sleeping now—the only place she could settle and let go of the aches and pains. Her long skinny almost elegant body is radiating with fever. I can hear the congestion with each wheezy exhalation and I’ll have to wake her soon to give her more Tylenol (or Advil, whichever comes next in the rotation) and try to convince her to drink something. Anything. She’s so hot. I’m crowded up against the wall on the very edge of the bed trying to avoid the heat she’s throwing off. My child. My sorrow. My delight. My life.
We walked slowly to the video store and rented everything she’s always wanted to watch but wasn’t allowed to because I’d scorned her taste. We stopped at the grocery store and bought soup, crackers, cherry-flavored cough drops, fruit and all the drinks she likes that I disapprove of. Then we walked ever so slowly home and got into bed and watched movies all day with breaks to read and do homework between each video. I made her fruit salad. She wrote me a poem. Before she fell asleep for the night she said, ‘we didn’t fight all weekend, did we?’
But if I haven’t felt the sort of all consuming anger that marked both my childhood and my married days it must be because I am so often alone now. That is, alone in the sense of not sharing space with another adult. It’s a very wonderful way to live, you know, once you get used to it. I wonder what will happen when I give it up—this solitude, this autonomy, this freedom to do as I like when I like it. I guess the thing is, I’m now willing to find out. And that is no small thing.
She wanted to go to school this morning and I kind of needed her to, so I dropped her off and went to work feeling like the Bad Mother of the Year. I kept expecting my cell phone to ring and confirm my neglect but it remained silent and unadmonishing. When I went to meet her she looked washed out so we took a cab home and got into bed again. There is something nice—elemental and easy—about simply retiring to bed. The truth is, we don’t fight so much when she’s like this. She’s better now, just tired.
And here we go: a new site to design for a new client. I’ve forgotten how to do this, I think. I seem to remember thriving on the adrenalin rush everyday. And I seem to remember something called post-project depression, too—feeling unloved when, after bringing in a new site or application, my inbox was empty, my voicemail without voices. Now, I find it hard to imagine wanting to be that stressed. I’ve had too many months on the recession bench. I think I’ve changed my mind about what I want to be when I grow up. It isn’t this.
Speaking of turbulence. I always used to imagine that being with you would create more turbulence than not. And I was concerned about it—the inevitable ups and downs involved with living with another person—the old angers. Now I’m not so sure. Now, in fact, I see it differently. A few bumps might be a nice thing. I’ve had all the solitude I need for nearly six years and maybe that’s why I have the luxury of thinking it’s not so important. I don’t know. I just know this. Being with you can’t be harder than being without you.
I’ve forgotten how to be busy. I spent so much of the last part of the last year languishing—the result of the bad economy and resulting scarcity of projects, as well as the displacement following September 11with the loss of our NY office. The company calls it ‘the beach.’ I always called it ‘being on the bench.’ Whatever, that's over now, it seems. I’m staggering to bed ridiculously early most nights, stunned by the amount of focus it takes to pull this off. I don’t want to be doing this. Trouble is, I don’t know what else there is.
Friday night, and I am whipped. Too much. Jaysus. I used to like this? Well, here’s the news: I’ve had enough. And it’s about time, probably, to have reached this conclusion. So. This year’s resolution is to get the hell out of it. Okay, not out of the profession—I’ll be a consultant forever—but out of this crazy company. At least that. Let’s make a plan. By summer it’ll be time to look around for something else. By the end of the year I’ll be elsewhere. No more Anderson Consulting Meets the Sopranos for me. I’ve had enough. Seriously.
Food, music, wine… remember the dance you do when you’ve begun to fall in love and you measure his sensuality by the way he responds to flavors, lighting, color? Does he know there’s a world of pleasure in the simple olive? That some foods are pleasurable enough to cause the eyes to lower, abashed, in public? Does he feel music in the same pensive half-regretful way? Will he notice that certain just-washed quality of light the day after a good rain? Yes? But wait, does he understand about epiphanies and grace? Does he know why lovemaking can make you cry?
Ends. It’s really just a series of endings, isn’t it? Maybe never losing sight of that allows you some measure of freedom I don’t seem to have. I know it’s the truth but I’m always looking for ways to forget it, you see, because I don’t like knowing it. Once upon a time every good thing I felt, every warm emotion, was tinged with that presentiment of loss. The trouble was, I couldn’t take the anticipation so I specialized in early and unnecessary endings. I’m tired of endings and I don’t especially believe in beginnings. I’ll just go for durability.
I look at this picture I keep here next to my computer. And I wonder too much. You're better than I am about silence, I think. I rush to fill the vacuum. I try not to do it because I know it often isn't wise. But sometimes I just need a reaction, a noise, a response, even if it's not a good one. It’s something my daughter and I have in common. Silence is unbearable to us. It’s a fault in me and in her. One I have gotten better at suppressing. One she has years ahead to struggle with.
Funny that we can agree on how things are and yet respond completely differently. I’m referring to our respective awareness of how easily things end, go bad, turn out to be fool’s gold. It’s sad depression-making to know this is true. But it’s oddly comforting to know it and decide to work with it anyway. Or it is for me. You never lose sight of the overwhelming evidence that life is bleak and full of pain. I keep trying for some measure of hope. Yet, you’re braver than I am when it comes to love. Maybe you see more clearly.
So tonight I had dinner with my new boss. The new ‘big boss’ brought in to, I don’t know, kick us out of the slump we’ve all been in for the last four months. We went to an expensive restaurant for the kind of meal common during the dot com days. I had all sorts of cognitive dissonance going on—this from a company that’s been brutal about staying profitable, that’s laid off hundreds over the last year, that reduced salaries last September (we thanked them for letting us keep our jobs). I wonder how I measured up. Who cares?
He asked ‘what do you really do? You must have to keep up with technology to run these projects, right?’ Yeah, sort of, although keeping up with technology is a losing battle. What I really do is make people who speak different languages understand each other. Client-speak, techie-speak, marketing-speak, business-speak—whatever-speak. I’m really just an interpreter, I think, with a very sharp nonsense detector. It helps keep people and things on track. I don’t really have any other skills outside of that. Well, I scare people into doing their jobs very nicely, too. But I’m not sure that’s a skill.
At 3:30AM my eyes open and I lie in the dark gathering myself around the deep internal clench and release. Sleep won’t be coming back now until I’ve found something to kill the pain. There is no advil, no tylenol, no aspirin, and so I swill down a cup of hot water mixed with theraflu and a slug of brandy. I fill the silly fuzzy hot-water bottle and sit in front of this screen, waiting for the warmth to relieve the knot in my belly. This always takes a while. I’ll get back to sleep just before the alarm rings.
In the year 2001 I saw three expanses. In the month of April I saw the Arizona desert in bloom. In the month of August I saw the northern moors of England washed for miles in purple heather. And at Christmas I went back to Arizona and saw the sky undisturbed by city light and full of stars I’d forgotten about. You don’t get expanses in the city. I can imagine an itinerary based on this: the sky in Wyoming, the Grand Canyon, a driving trip down Rt. One along the Pacific. You need time, though, to see such things.
I looked at a loft today. Several, actually, but one in particular has gotten stuck in my head. It reminds me of certain architectural dreams of mine—lots of space, and light and high ceilings; interesting angles and corners and an echoing emptiness. I want this place. I want to leave my crowded railroad apartment with its water-stained ceilings, rotten floor, incorrigible radiators and accumulated junk. I want a tub. I want to put all my dishes on clean shelves. I want to start over in a clean space. Well, it’s that or cut my hair. I need a change.
So is it just me or does anyone else see a theme here? I’m thinking a lot about letting go of my precious solitude. I’m thinking about leaving my job. I want to move to a new place. Do we see some sort of longing to remake my life going on here? If I were my own best friend I’d be saying, ‘slow down, that’s a lot of sudden decisions. Be sensible. Take it slowly.’ And if I were me I’d listen to myself, too. What? I’ll stay away from the hairdressers for a while. It’s clearly an impulsive time.
Whenever I go to London I find myself exaggerating my American openness in an effort to elicit responses from these studiously understated people. That's who I am—forever fascinated by hidden interiors. I don't know what sorts of secrets are to be found behind their polite smiles and lace curtains and garden fences, but I go on peering into the rare unguarded face or uncurtained window. I strain for a glimpse through trellised fences and hedges. It's easier to see into faces, windows and yards in America-- we're not so careful to hide our interior lives as the English are.
Oh man, I just want it to be time to leave for the airport. One more day to get through and then I can go. This’ll be a fast one—in Friday morning and out again Monday evening. God I crave it. London is two things to me: a place of concentrated quiet and the setting for my flight away from my precious solitude and into your arms. Am I strange to find a place of retreat by swapping one big noisy city for another? I don’t know. It seems equally odd to equate a flight from solitude with retreat.
There’s a white layer of clouds beneath us while a gibbous moon shines overhead. It’s a private show—a few bright stars and an entire skyscape of silvery white expanse unknowable to anyone on the ground. I slip into intermittent dozing—waking long enough to note that the hidden scape of reflected cloud is still there, lit by the same stubborn globe. Time passes oddly up here and the moon just hangs in the sky until finally I wake to find it replaced by the faintest tinge of rose. Soon we’ll come down through the clouds into a different place.
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